Interview with Lalitha Bhagavatheeswaran
How did you choose the institution (university, college, etc.) that you pursued for your education in Public Health?
I heard about the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine during my second year of undergrad. A professor of mine at UofT was an alumni of the school and spoke highly of the program. I contacted the school and spoke to an advisor who then connected me to a few past and current students. This allowed me to ask important questions and see whether the school would be a good fit for my future career goals and me. After hearing from the students and learning about the research/global health projects the school was working on, I decided to apply.
Can you provide some insight to your experience at that institution?
I had one of the best years of my life! The school had students from every single time zone in the world, making it very diverse and interesting. I made some very close friends while at the school. The professors were all working on really interesting research projects that when it came down to picking thesis supervisors, we were spoiled for choice.
A course that I really enjoyed was called Applied Communicable Disease Control. The Professor at the time, Dr. Greg Thomas-Reilly (a Canadian!), was a great course instructor. In the course we worked on a measles outbreak case study and had the opportunity to come up with a campaign to tackle a communicable disease. The class was stimulating and practical.
The first term mandatory courses such as Health Economics, Statistics and Epidemiology were also very useful. Health Economics was a subject I had never taken before during my undergrad so it was really eye opening and fascinating to learn about.
Should one pursue a thesis-based or a course-based Masters? What are the advantages and disadvantages to both?
I decided to do a course-based masters because I wanted to learn Public Health theory and have the opportunity to work on research. My thesis, which was on adolescent girls, child marriage and education in India, was part of a bigger research study taking place with a partner institution in Bangalore.
I felt that a course-based masters will allow me to either continue in research after graduating or work on global health programs, giving me more career options than a thesis-based masters.
A thesis-based masters would be suited for someone who would like to work on in-depth original research and has a particular research question/professor in mind. It takes longer to complete than a course-based masters and students who do a thesis-based masters usually want to continue on with a PhD and enter academia.
However, you can still pursue a PhD at the school if you took a course-based masters and you can pursue a non-academic career after completing a thesis-based masters.
Before applying to the school, students should ask themselves whether they want to pursue an academic career after the masters. If the answer is yes, then a thesis-based masters would be better suited. If the answer is no, then a course-based masters would be better. However if you are unsure, I would take the course-based masters, as it will still allow you to take courses and work on a piece of research.
What experience outside of school proved to be valuable in shaping or enhancing your career?
I have always enjoyed participating in extracurricular activities and joining school groups. I ran for tutor group representative and was part of the Student Representative Committee. We organized various events throughout the year, such as a charity run for Medicines Sans Frontiers, volunteer week and social events. This enhanced my experience at the school as it allowed me to connect with other students and contribute to the community I was living in. I was also an advocate for students and raised any concerns with the faculty and administration.
The school and London also provided a lot of opportunities to attend global health lectures and conferences. Attending these allowed me to expand my network and even helped me land a job after graduating from the school.
How did you choose the stream that you’re in?
Within Public Health, they have General stream, Health Promotion stream, Health Economics stream, Environment & Health stream and Health Services Management stream. The majority of students stuck with the general stream, as it allowed you to have the most flexibility in terms of the courses you took. I decided to do the General stream for this exact reason. I wanted to choose a variety of courses and not limit myself to only what the stream provided.
However the added benefit of going into a specific stream is that you could highlight that in your CV and promote your specialization.
What specific advice do you have when it comes to applying for jobs specific to the Public Health industry?
I think this advice would apply to any industry – Network! Try to attend different Public Health lectures, workshops and conferences. If there is a specific organization you would like to work for, don’t be afraid to reach out to someone who currently works there on LinkedIn and ask them for a meeting. Two jobs that I got in London, were because of meeting someone at a Global Health conference and lecture.
Can you elaborate how a day in your current job looks like?
I work as a health research consultant. At the moment I am working with a health-funding agency based in London, UK. The current project involves speaking with stakeholders in India and the UK and gathering data on a funded-project based in India. I am in the process of writing a report to submit to the review committee, which will decide whether the initiative continues to get funded and if so how and what the amount will be.
If you had the chance to do this again, what would you do differently?
If I were to do the Masters again, I would take courses, which I knew I would struggle with, so I push my boundaries and learn new skill sets (i.e the more advanced statistics courses). The school does offer a lot of short-courses, which might be a good option for someone wanting to brush up on any public health skills they have (or skills they wish they had obtained during their masters program)!
If you are considering LSHTM as an option, I highly encourage you to apply! Most importantly, if you do go to the school, try to explore the external Global/Public Health arena in London as much as possible. There is literally some sort of public health related lecture or event going on everyday! This can help you further explore various career options and meet people working in those fields. If moving to London is not an option, consider the distance learning program, which many students partake in. You will join an amazing network of thousands of Alumni based all around the world!